Veterans News

One Hide at a Time: The Man Behind the Veterans Leather Program

Those who can, do. Those who can do more, volunteer. For more than ten years, Dennis McAleese has been the Veterans Leather Program Chair. In that time, he's helped thousands of hospitalized and recovering veterans with leather therapy kits, distributed thousands of wheelchair gloves, and recruited volunteers from across the country to donate hides and get involved.

How did you get started volunteering with the Elks?
When I first joined the Elks, they asked me to volunteer in the kitchen to cook hamburgers on bingo night. I’ve jumped around from one thing to another ever since.

How did you come to be the Leather Program Chair?
When I was the State President in Arkansas, Charles Cutshaw, who was then the Leather Program Chair came to visit and to talk about the program. We hit it off and he said, “When you’re done being the State President, we want you to get involved with the Leather Program.” I agreed, and less than a year later, he retired and asked me to take his place.

What are some of your responsibilities as Program Chair?
Once all of the hides are gathered up, state volunteers contact me and I arrange to have to the hides transported to a tannery. I work with trucking companies to get the best deals on transportation. Once the leather gets to the tannery, I work with the tanning company to process of the leather.

I also print certificates for program volunteers. I’m constantly getting calls from people who are interested in participating, and I’m always promoting the program so that more people will get involved. I also work the booth at the National Convention every year.

What is the leather used for?
There are three different uses for the leather. We send leather to Help Heal Veterans, which uses it to make occupational training kits for recovering veterans across the country. Some leather comes directly to me and I use it to fill orders from individual VAVS Representatives for use in hospitals. The third use is to make gloves to hand out to veterans in wheelchairs.

What is your favorite part of the program?
I like going to Veterans Administration adaptive sports events like the Wheelchair Games, the Golden Age Games, and the Winter Sports Clinic. At these events, I hand out wheelchair gloves to the veterans and talk about the Elks. That is by far the most rewarding part of the program. I go to these events and hand out 300-400 gloves and I see the smiles on their faces … that’s the best reward for all of the hours that I put in. It’s the motivating factor that keeps me going. They inspire me.

Is there a particular moment that you’re proud of?
I’m always proud to bring new people onboard. I spend a lot of time promoting this program so it is really satisfying to recruit new volunteers. I love getting people involved.

Learn more about the Leather Program on our webpage!

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